5 years focusing on science and technology self-reliance of China

Self-reliant science and technology play a central role in China’s latest 5-year plan. This is the result of recent tensions with the US and the West.

Opening session of the 4th session of the XIII National People’s Congress on March 5. (Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Alamy)

China approved the 14th 5-year plan on March 11, setting out a vision for socio-economic development in the next half decade. The plan wants to create a closer relationship between academic and practical, improving the outcome of this collaboration. According to sociologist Joy Zhang, the world is entering a very interesting period for Chinese science.

Compared to four years ago, the increase in annual spending on science was lower, but increased in the share of basic research. China is a scientific powerhouse and has increased investment in research in the past few decades. The 5-year plans serve as manifesto, direct investment and demonstrate research ambitions.

According to China National Natural Science Fund Advisor Yang Wei, the US-China trade tensions point China towards the goal of science and technology self-improvement. The conflict between the two countries is a wake-up call for China, according to Mu Ming Poo, scientific director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

For example, at the end of 2020, the United States banned the export of modern microchips used in smartphones to China with the fear that the chips could be used for military purposes. Mr. Poo argues that this action reveals the difficulty of China in applying basic research to meet domestic technology needs.

China publishes many quality studies on materials science but has not produced useful products. According to Poo, the research community and industry need better connections to truly realize the potential of fundamental research.

Although the plan alludes to a desire for technological self-sufficiency to avoid problems like with the US, Mr. Yang said that they still want to maintain links with the international.

However, Huang Futao, a senior education researcher at Hiroshima University, is concerned that Western countries impose larger than usual restrictions on cooperation with Chinese scientists in sensitive research fields. It makes it increasingly difficult for scientists to work together.

China’s efforts to strengthen science and technology mean that basic science will increasingly focus on areas of social importance. These include brain science, artificial intelligence, quantum information, genomics, deep space and deep sea exploration. The plan wants to create a “national strategic research force”, according to Yang.

As part of an effort to closely align research and industry, there will be initiatives for the private sector to invest more in basic science through tax breaks.

This is a change for China because compared to many Western countries, cooperation between academia, industry and business is not a long tradition here.

The 5-year plan emphasizes industrial cooperation in line with the efforts over the years to transform basic research into practical application, the researchers said. For example, in December 2019, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security issued a regulation that allows researchers to take up to 6 years’ leave to join the industry or start their own startup, while still receiving other salary and bonuses. . Their performance during that time was recognized in job evaluation and promotion.

However, it can create ethical “blind spots” and research integrity. By encouraging closer cooperation with the private sector, scientists can get into the place where there is no institutional oversight system. China has attempted to eliminate misbehavior such as plagiarism, counterfeiting peer reviews, and withdraw a large amount of research, but the problem persists.

The pressure to meet social goals and the competitive funding system is also likely to force some researchers to cheat in new ways. In addition, when the amount of research is less, the work of Chinese scientists also gradually “invisible” to the world.

Changes in evaluation method also make it difficult for young scientists to access capital. According to Cong Cao, science policy analyst at the University of Nottingham, the government needs to make it clear that the index is a measure of efficiency. These indicators should also be easy to calculate.

Under the 5-year plan, the share of basic research in R&D costs increases from 6% to more than 8%. Even so, it is still only half that of many countries. For example, the US currently spends about 17% of R&D on basic research. The details of China’s science spending will be clearer later this year.

Du Lam (According to Nature)

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